Actually, the anniversary of me moving to the NYC area to work at Z100 New York was yesterday. I got on a plane July 2, 2001, to make my move here. But let me do a rewind to give you an accurate account of my life & career at the time…
I grew up wanting to be a Grammy Award-winning singer, so the radio was always a big part of my life. I use to tune in to listen for all my favorite songs, sing a long to them, request others & even participate in contests on air. When I got to high school, I enrolled in the communications magnet school program. It was the Jack Yates High School of Communications (or S.O.C. for short) in my hometown of Houston. In fact, all of my siblings were in the S.O.C. Students enrolled in the S.O.C. learned radio, television, journalism, photography & such. It was then that I 1st got an inkling that radio could be a career possibility for me. So when it came time for me to enroll in college, I did the natural thing & enrolled in the Radio/Television/Communications curriculum. I went to the University of Houston right out of high school, but dropped out after a year & a half due to a major depression I went through. I took a detour for about 2 years as a Nanny before enrolling in a smaller college, Texas Southern University. There, I once again majored in Communications & at the urging of one of my professors, I started volunteering & working at the campus radio station, KTSU. It was my work at KTSU that solidified for me that radio was what I had a passion for & was what I wanted to make my career. It just so happened that the aunt of the little girl I was the nanny for, worked at the radio station I grew up listening to, KMJQ. She was in charge of finding someone to fill in temporarily for the receptionist while she was on maternity leave. It worked out perfectly that her 3-month maternity leave was during my summer break from college. So she got me the job & told me, ‘By getting you this receptionist job, I helped get your foot in the door here at the station. Now it’s your job to get yourself on the air!’ So with that gauntlet laid down, I went about performing my duties. I have to say that I was quite the adept receptionist. I had worked at an answering service at one point in college, so answering the business lines professionally was easy for me. And you can believe that every time the Program Director called to get his messages or passed through the lobby, I would remind him that I was a college student who worked at my college radio station & aspired to be a professional Radio Personality. But no matter how many times I told him, he was not impressed. But then something amazing happened…the station’s Production Director would leave the production room a couple of times a day just to take a breather. He would come sit in the lobby & talk to me & ask me about college & my goals. I told him that I wanted to be on air at the station, but that the PD wasn’t taking me seriously. So the Production Director said, ‘I’ll tell you what…on your breaks, come to the production room, help clean out my studio & organize it. In exchange, I’ll teach you everything I know about radio.’ So I started going to the production room every chance I got. Soon, he would have me voicing commercials & drops for the station. One day, the Program Director heard my voice on one of the station drops. He picked up the phone, called the Production Director & asked who that lady was on that drop. He promptly told him that it was Shelley, the receptionist who had been trying the whole summer to get him to put me on air! So you can imagine just how super excited I was when I got a call in the reception area from the PD, who asked me to send him some of my on-air stuff from my college radio station. I sent him some audio, but he wanted to hear how I’d sound on his station, so the Production Director sat me in front of a microphone, gave me some copy to read & produced my very 1st radio aircheck! The Program Director loved it & he hired me to be a part time Air-Personality on the station I grew up listening to! And this happened almost at the very end of my time as the temporary receptionist. So within three months of arriving at the station, I managed to get a job on the radio…that’s what I call God’s plan in motion!
So thus began my professional radio career. The next huge move in my radio career came very quickly. Six months after starting my professional radio career, I got an offer from a competing radio station to work for them. I would still be part time, but they were offering a more prime on-air time slot & more money. After some consideration, I accepted the new gig offer & moved to the station that would become my home for the next 8 years, KBXX. I did part time weekends there for 2 months before they offered me the full time Midday on-air position. So just to put this into perspective…I got my 1st full time on-air gig less then a year after I started my professional radio career–all while still a junior in college! It was all overwhelmingly amazing for me! I did Middays at “The Box” for 6 years before moving to the Morning Show to be Co-Host & Entertainment Reporter. It really was an amazing 8 years at that station. I feel like I grew up there. It was one of the 1st Hip-Hop radio stations in the country & a lot of us started off there when we were in college. So we were kids who grew into our adulthood at this station. Even though I don’t talk to all my former co-workers on a regular basis (I’m terrible when it comes to keeping in touch with people), I still feel a very close connection with them.
When I dreamed of having a singing career, I always wanted to move to New York City & sing on Broadway. So when I got into radio, I immediately knew that working in NYC was a goal for me. It’s the #1 radio market in the country (and some would argue that it’s #1 in the world), so it’s not an easy market to break into. But I’m big on achieving dreams & goals, so I wasn’t deterred. The whole time I worked at KBXX, I always sent airchecks (kind of like audio resumes or examples of you on the radio) to NYC radio stations. Sometimes I would get replies, sometimes I wouldn’t. But I was very happy working in Houston. It was my hometown, all my family & friends were there & I was very successful there. So I wasn’t in a rush to move anywhere. But that NYC goal always stayed in the back of my mind. One year, I sent my aircheck out & made a follow-up call to make sure the station’s Program Director received it. The lady on the other end of the line told me that the PD wasn’t in, but that she could help me. She asked my name, I told her & she screamed, ‘Shelley Wade! I use to listen to you when I lived in Houston!’ Her name was Sharon Dastur. She & the Program Director, Tom Poleman, at Z100 New York use to work in Houston, but at the Pop station in Houston. So while I had heard of her, I had never met her. But lucky me, she use to listen to me in Houston & she liked me as a personality! So now that I was calling her in NYC, she told me that there were no on-air positions open, but to keep in touch. I would email her from time to time, but nothing excessive since I had such a busy career already in Houston. Fast forward to about a year later at radio convention in San Francisco, I met her in person! She gave me a big hug, gave me her business card & again told me to keep in touch. I also had the pleasure of finally meeting her boss, Tom Poleman, at the convention. That was probably around 1998 or 1999. Fast forward to the the Spring of 2001. I received an email from Sharon Dastur telling me that they might have a position available at one of their stations in the northeast & asked me to send her an aircheck. Since she didn’t say Z100 specifically, I had reservations because at the time, I really wasn’t interested in moving anywhere but NYC or Los Angeles. I really wasn’t willing to leave all my family & friends in Houston to go somewhere unless it was a huge career move for me. But putting aside my reservations, I went ahead & sent an aircheck. And I remember this very clearly because it was one of those watermark moments in my career…It was a Thursday, probably around noon or so. I remember this so clearly because I use to do a club broadcast on Wednesday nights. I would leave the club around 1am, go home & sleep for about 2 hours, then get up in the 3am hour to go to the radio station to do the Morning Show. So I was always so super exhausted on Thursdays. Immediately after the show, I would go right back home & go to sleep. I would never even consider answering the phone. So it was strange that on this particular Thursday when the phone rang, I decided to get up from my sleep & answer it. I answered the phone in my sleepy haze of a voice & there was a man on the line asking for Shelley Wade. I was like, ‘This is she.’ And he said (sounding confused as to why I sounded so out of it), ‘Hi Shelley, this is Tom Poleman.’ And with those 6 words, I was wide awake all of a sudden! THE Tom Poleman–RADIO GOD– was calling me?! What?! You’ve got to be kidding me?! That’s what I was thinking, I wouldn’t dare be such a dork as to say that out loud, lol. Anyway, he went on to say that Sharon gave him my aircheck & that he thought I sounded amazing. He asked if I’d like to fly to NYC to audition…!!! Keep in mind that when I sent the aircheck, I wasn’t sure what station I was sending it for because Sharon had only told me that it was for one of their stations in the northeast. So when Tom asked me if I wanted to fly up for an audition, I immediately asked, ‘For what station?’ His answer? ‘Z100.’ I of course, trying not to hyperventilate, said, ‘Yes!’ We set the date for June 7, 2001. I remember that date so clearly because June 7th is Prince’s birthday…and I’ve been a huge Prince fan since I was in elementary school. I felt that this was a positive sign! Now this is where the story gets even crazier…after finding out that Z100 New York was interested in me, the company I worked for immediately offered me the Midday on-air shift at their station in Los Angeles. They didn’t offer me an audition for the job, they offered me the actual the job! I couldn’t have ever prepared myself for how these events were unfolding. Like I said, or implied earlier, God is good!
So the afternoon of June 7th after doing the Morning Show, I got on a plane to New York. The audition went well, but I wasn’t confident that they’d give me the job since I had never worked in Top 40 radio. I thought that a better fit for me would be the gig in Los Angeles that I was already offered because it was the same Hip-Hop and R&B format that I was currently working on in Houston. In either case, I flew back to Houston for a couple of days, then the following week, the company that I was currently working for flew me to Los Angeles to visit the station that I would be working for if I accepted their job offer. It was a very comfortable fit. I’ve always liked LA & I would be working for my old boss there, who I also considered a friend. But while I was in LA, I got another call from Tom Poleman. This time, he was calling to tell me that if I wanted the gig at Z100, it was mine! So in less than a month, I actually had job offers in New York City & Los Angeles at the same time! I don’t know a lot of people who can say that they had to choose between jobs in NYC & LA. It was one of those once in a lifetime moments that you just never forget! It was a big decision for me to make because there were so many elements involved. But thinking back to when I was in the studio at Z100 for the audition & looking out at that iconic New York City skyline with the World Trade Towers right in front of me just across the Hudson River…I knew that I had to go with my childhood dream of moving to NYC. So I ultimately took the Z100 job & the rest, as they say, is history!
So that brings us back to where this blog post 1st began…this weekend 10 years ago, I was at the airport getting ready to officially move to the NYC area. From the time I went to audition for the Z100 job to the time I was actually moving, It all happened so quickly. My life changed literally within the course of 2 weeks. It was a world wind couple of weeks. Aside from planning the move (picking a moving company that would deliver my things & my car to NYC), I still had to work on the Morning Show every morning & there were 3 huge parties planned for me. The radio station threw me a going away party, the Houston Association of Black Journalists threw me a going away party, some of my fellow Prince fans threw me a going away party & some of my fellow Houston women in radio treated me to a going away lunch. I was so crazy busy that I literally got sick. Seriously, I had walking pneumonia the day I flew from Houston to NYC. I was so sick that I couldn’t even pack the boxes for my move. While my family packed all my boxes, I laid on the sofa hardly able to move. So that’s partly how I was feeling as I stood at the gate at the airport waiting for my flight. In fact, I was feeling so many emotions as I stood at the gate. I was super excited to finally be realizing my dream of having my own radio show in New York City! But I was also devastatingly sad to be leaving my Mom, Dad, brother, sisters, niece, nephew, God daughter, best friends & close co-workers. This was a few months before 9/11, so it was back when you could still have people at the gate with you to see you off. My entire family was there, along with my best friends & God daughter. I actually forbade anyone to cry so that the goodbyes wouldn’t be so unbearable for me. I mean, I said it over & over in the car on the way to the airport, ‘You guys, please don’t cry because it’ll make this harder for me.’ The kids were running around playing with each other & the adults were sitting there trying to act like we weren’t moved by this. But then as they started calling aisles to start lining up & boarding for the flight, it all started to hit me. I tried turning away from my family so as not to start crying, but they kept hugging me & kissing me goodbye. So I rushed onto the the plane, but couldn’t even enjoy my 1st class seat to NYC because I was crying SO much. I cried & snotted the whole flight, so much so that the guy next to me was confused as to why I was sitting in 1st class so brokenhearted. I told him that I’d be okay. Long story even longer, I eventually got over it & made it to NYC July 2, 2001…right on the eve of the big 4th of July fireworks spectacular. I made my on-air debut on Z100 July 9, 2001. I did Middays on Z100 for 7 years. It was an amazing 7 years and I had the #1 Midday show in New York City the very day I left that shift. For the last 3 years, I’ve been doing the Overnight shift on Z100 after the company wanted to bring Ryan Seacrest’s syndicated show to the Middays. I’m not a night owl, so the schedule continues to be difficult for me…I’m just being honest. But I’m better with the schedule now than I was when I 1st started it. And I still love cracking open that microphone & talking on the radio…there is no other gig like it! Aside from being heard on Z100, I can also be heard on close to 40 other stations nationwide–including stations in California, Alaska, North Dakota, Ohio, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Florida & lots of other places in between. I’m even on a couple of stations in my home state of Texas! Aside from the radio, I also regularly make national television appearances, I do voice work & I even write movie & TV show ideas with my writing partner Jimbo, whom I use to do the Morning Show with in Houston.
It’s been hard living apart from my loved ones for the last ten years, but we talk on the phone regularly & we visit. I’ve had my share of learning experiences, ups & downs and have become older & wiser. These last 10 years have been full of amazing life experiences & stories that I’ll be telling for the rest of my life. I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years have in store & what amazing adventures are waiting just around the corner for me! As you & anyone else can attest to, there are so many countless people who contribute to one’s success & achievements. I can’t name everyone, but I do want to give some heartfelt THANK YOUs to just a few of the people who have made such an amazing impact on my career…Rick Roberts, Tracy McClemore-Prince, Bill Travis, Ron Atkinson, Robert Scorpio, Quincy McCoy, Sharon Dastur, Tom Poleman and, of course, the listeners of all of the stations I’ve ever been heard on. THANK YOU so kindly for your generosity & acceptance. I will forever be grateful! 10 years at Z100 New York & 20 years in radio come next summer…that’s a big deal for me, so thanks for reading along as I indulged in my excitement!